Monday, July 6, 2015

Fran Dunphy's turn in the spotlight

A couple days ago, a commenter asked me if there's anyone I don't kiss up to. Believe me, there are plenty. But I can't help believing in Fran Dunphy.

Fran Dunphy's turn in the spotlight


A couple days ago, a commenter asked me if there's anyone I don't kiss up to. Believe me, there are plenty of such people, and you'll hear about them sooner or later. But I can't help believing in Fran Dunphy.

It's not just me. Even the St. Joe's fans I've met like him, despite Temple's win over the Hawks in the Atlantic 10 Tournament final. Reading the Hawk Hoop Club's message board after the game, that sentiment was nearly unanimous.

And if you think my praise is glowing, try Dick Jerardi's remark at the Coaches vs. Cancer Breakfast this past Monday that what Dunphy did this year was among the very best coaching jobs he's ever seen in 20-plus years of covering college basketball.

That's what we're saying today, however. A week ago, I had one nagging question about what Dunphy was up against on North Broad Street.

It's one thing to have to coach on back-to-back days in the Ivy League to win a title. The rigor of a conference tournament's three games in three days, or four in four in a lot of cases, is a different story.

Yet Dunphy overcame the challenge in stunning fashion, sealing the triumph with that dominant second half in the championship game.

During the celebrations on the court afterwards, I talked to two of Dunphy's assistants that he brought over from Penn, Dave Duke and Matt Langel, about just how hard a task it was to win three games in three days for the first time in their careers.

I talked first to Duke, who admitted that he "didn't think we'd be in this position."

"You've sort of got to come down here and survive," he said. "It comes at you all at once -- you're not sure until 6.1 seconds left that you've won the game."

The Ivy League has playoffs to resolve tiebreakers, but Langel never played in one. So this experience was really something new.

"In the Ivy League, every game is your championship; this, every game is the end of the line," Langel said. "You just kind of wing it and trust in your kids that you're going to remember what you've done all year."

Phil Martelli knew full well what he was seeing, though.

"That was a championship won by a coaching staff," he said.

The evidence came in how well the Owls executed Dunphy's motion offense.

Dunphy's system is about a lot of things, but to me it is about passing the ball well more than anything else. The ball moves around a lot more than the players do, whether from the top of the arc to the corner or into the paint and back out.

There isn't too much dribbling around the perimeter, or hard driving to the basket from the top of the lane. Most of the player movement is done off the ball instead of on it.

Look at the video clip below of the passes that led to a key three-pointer by Dionte Christmas in the second half Saturday.

Mark Tyndale rebounds the missed Pat Calathes shot, and throws the long pass to Ryan Brooks. Brooks controls his momentum, then dribbles three steps to the edge of the paint and lays off a short pass to Tyndale at the free throw line. Tyndale takes one dribble and a step, then kicks the ball out to Chris Clark, who dribbles once before swinging the ball around to Christmas for the open shot.

It was a perfectly-executed play, and showed just what can happen when the guy taking the shot is an NBA-caliber player instead of an Ivy Leaguer.

Dunphy's reward for this season's success is something he always tries to shy away from -- a place in the spotlight. He will tell you until he's blue in the face that it isn't about him, as he did to Mike Kern in Tuesday's Daily News.

But today is about Fran Dunphy. He deserves it, whether he likes it or not.
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Soft Pretzel Logic is's college sports blog, with a primary focus on the University of Pennsylvania. You'll also see coverage of the Big 5, other major college sports events in the region, and the annual Penn Relays track and field meet.

Jonathan Tannenwald
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